Expressing concern over the functioning of parliamentary institutions in the country and erosion of public trust in them, Vice President and Chairman of Rajya Sabha M Venkaiah Naidu today unveiled a 15 point reform charter as the basis for a new political normal to enable effective functioning of Parliament and State Legislatures. He dwelt at length on the present pitfalls of parliamentary democracy in the country while delivering the first ‘Arun Jaitley Memorial Lecture on Strengthening of Parliamentary Institutions in the Country’ at Delhi University today.
During his 50 minutes, a long account of the genesis of the Constitution of India and functioning of legislatures in the country, Vice President Naidu enumerated several pitfalls that are adversely impacting the legislative institutions and suggested remedial measures. He called for a new political consciousness urging all the stakeholders to review their mindset with regard to their roles and responsibilities.
Expressing concern over poor attendance in the legislatures and the quality of debates, the Vice President urged the political parties to ensure attendance of at least 50% of their legislators all through the proceedings of the Houses by adopting a roster system. This suggestion came in the context of Parliament being forced to be adjourned due to lack of quorum of the required presence of 10% of the strength of the Houses.
Responding to the concerns over stifling of the freedom of expression of the legislators further to issuance of ‘Whip’, Vice President Naidu called for a review of the same so as to enable a reasonable degree of dissent without impacting the stability of the government. The Chairman of Rajya Sabha also advocated a thorough review of the Anti Defection Law to rectify the grey areas like incentivising legislators to resort to actions inviting expulsion from the party besides providing for time-bound disposal of defection cases by the Presiding Officer.
Referring to the functioning of the Department Related Standing Committees that came into being in 1993 for a detailed examination of legislative proposals, Demands for Grants and other select subjects on behalf of the Parliament, Vice President Naidu expressed concern over declining attendance, lack of specialisation, limited tenure of one year, frequent hopping of Committees etc. The Chairman said that he would discuss with Lok Sabha Speaker the measures needed for the effective functioning of these committees with longer tenure instead of the present one year, promoting specialisation by nominating the Members for a longer period etc.
Emphasising the need for well thought out and focused legislation with the participation of stakeholders, Vice President Naidu proposed a detailed framework based pre and post Legislative Impact Assessment. He stressed that every legislative proposal shall incorporate a detailed account of social, economic, environmental and administrative impact for wider awareness and subsequent assessment of the effect of legislation on the ground.
Conceding that the present ‘First Pass The Post (FPTP)’ system of electing people’s representatives is faulty to the extent that MPs and MLAs are being elected with substantially less than
50% of voter support, Vice President Naidu, however, said that there is no alternative at present. He further said that the proportional representation being advocated in some quarters would lead to the promotion of further social and political cleavages besides being not practical due to implementation issues. He noted that in the recent elections to the 17 th Lok Sabha, a large number of members were elected with more than 50% voter support which would further increase with the changing preference of voters based on developmental concerns.
Vice President Venkaiah Naidu stated that ‘Parliamentary form of Government’ is one of the features of the ‘Basic structure of the Constitution’ and is accordingly beyond the power of Parliament to be
amended as per the settled position in the matter. He said that the alternative of ‘Presidential form of Government‘ for India is no option by virtue of the same.
Referring to the long-held perception about the role of caste, community, region and religion in influencing the voting preferences in the country, Chairman Naidu stated that there is growing evidence to suggest the decline of such identity-based voting but it needs to be completely stamped out. “While the Indian public has been steadfast in patronising democracy since the first General Elections in 1952 with the ever-rising turnout, there is a need for a new consciousness in the form of moving away from the remnants of identity-based voting to that of development-oriented exercise of voting preferences.” Vice President noted.
Vice President Naidu underscored the need for the governments to be responsive to the concerns of the Opposition and the Opposition to be responsible and constructive during the debates and while criticising the government and opposing the legislation. He said; “Frequent disruptions, Points of Order without a point, Adjournment Motions and interruptions betray political immaturity, exhibitionism, excessive fondness for the limelight and inadequate appreciation of the need to utilise the opportunity of serving the public interest. ”
The other reform proposals of Vice President and Chairman of Rajya Sabha include building consensus on simultaneous polls to let unfettered governance, enacting for reservation of women in
legislatures, making rules that automatically take effect against erring members in case of interruptions and disruptions, regular publication of reports by the Secretariats of Legislatures on the attendance of Members and their participation in debates, doing away with the winnability as the sole criterion for selecting contestants by the parties to address the concern of a rising number of legislators with criminal record.
Lauding the contributions of Late Arun Jaitley, Vice President Naidu described him as a multi-tasker and multi-faceted genius. He further noted that Jaitley, as both the Leader of the Opposition and Leader of the House for five years each in the Rajya Sabha made a significant role in the passing of several landmark legislations besides resolving stalemates on several occasions.
He said; “In my view, Jaitley during his long years in public life made a unique contribution to addressing the imbalance in the prevailing dominant political thinking in the country which was almost institutionalised for long at the cost of other perspectives. It required the zeal, ability, virtuosity and the power of interpretation and communication of Jaitley to mainstream the hitherto dormant perspective based on Indian ethos and nationalism. He was at the forefront of further elaborating the concepts of secularism and nationalism as unifying forces in the Indian context. ”